Novelist Jay McInerney once wrote “Sometimes I think the difference between what we want and what we're afraid of is about the width of an eyelash.” While McInerney’s wine writings are too often dewy-eyed panegyrics to the lifestyles of the rich, there is something to the conflation of desire and anxiety, even fear. A strange study in British Columbia last year showed that a group of men crossing a swaying suspension bridge were more likely to a find a particular woman sexually attractive than if they observed that woman on flat, safe ground.
Silly news? Perhaps. But with Valentine’s Day as background, could we dare to move beyond our safe choices into less charted territory, and if we did so, would that add to the excitement? Instead of the usual Prosecco or Cava for bubbly, what if true Champagne were the tipple? Yes, it’s expensive (likely to be forty or fifty dollars) but you and your companion might discover the remarkable mix of yeast, toast, fruit and effervescence that exemplifies the best of bubbly. Try Billiot ($65), Feuillatte ($45), Gosset $50), Pol Roger ($65) and for the loveliest of pink sparklers, Bollinger Brut Rose ($90)
Oregon Pinot Noir is more talked about than consumed; the 2011 vintage has been completely overlooked: beauties such as Ayres ($28) or Adelsheim ($30) are far too gentle and elegant for most critics. The earthy notes of Rhone wines remind many of bodies in motion: Chapoutier’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine 2009 is spicy and rich.
The silken juiciness of great German Riesling may offer wine’s shortest path to pleasure. There are plenty of stars in Germany’s firmament: Fritz Haag, Gunderloch, J.J. Pruem, Karthausershof, Moenchhof, Schloss Lieser, Weins-Pruem and Zilliken are just a few. Or you can evoke Greece’s bright beaches with the brilliant sunniness of Sigalas Assyrtiko ($22) or Skouras Moschofilero ($19), both vibrant icons. Chenin Blanc has a mineral, savory character expressed best in the Loire Valley (try Huet’s Vouvrays) or in South Africa: Raats ($14) and Ken Forrester ($16) are easy to highlight.
But if deep red is the color for your Valentine, the extravagance of Italy’s Amarone is hard to top: Masi Costasera ($65), Tommasi ($70) or Zenato ($75) are deeply generous in spirit.
When your intention is to demonstrate your ardor, then ardent spirits may be just the right drop. Sure, you know Cognac, but there are other brandies to explore: I can ardently recommend its wilder sibling Armagnac (there are not many in this market, sadly) or California’s Germain Robin Craft Method Brandy ($55). As for me, I’ll give my Valentine her choice of all of these. She knows I’ll be content with any of them, along with a copita of head-spinning Del Maguey Mezcal, as good a mix of fear and pleasure as any.
This article previously appeared in the Kansas City Star